I don’t do Early Access very often, because my brain sort of… doesn’t get it. Like, I know I’m about to play an unfinished game, but there’s some weird signal in the back of my head that hypes me up as if it were for a full-fledged game, so it always ends up feeling lacking at the end, at no fault of the game’s. That being said, I’ve been following We Happy Few for months now, so I have to agree with that little signal in my head this time: I’m excited. Here’s what I got out of my first couple of hours of the game.
From the get-go, the game gives you two options to customize your experience: Second Wind and Permadeath. If Second Wind is on, then when you run out of health, your character will wake up after some time passes in a critical state. An invisible timer will start counting down, shown by the increase of your heartrate and the darkening of the screen, and if you don’t use a healing item before it ticks down, you’ll die for reals. If Permadeath is on, then if you do die for reals, your character is gone forever, and you have to start the game over. If it’s off, then you’ll be sent back to the last safehouse you were in with stat penalties removed and a couple of items missing. I played with Second Wind on and Permadeath off.
I got to play through the opening sequence showcased at E3, in which we meet one of our three possible protagonists, Arthur Hastings, as he goes off his Joy (a hallucinogenic medication to suppress bad memories), and is chased out of his office by police officers for being a Downer.
He ends up in a safehouse under Wellington Wells’ Garden District, which is populated by Wastrels, people who have gone off their Joy and suffer from mind-blowing levels of depression and psychosis. Sadly, this is all the story I got, but Compulsion has made it clear that the story proper will most likely not be introduced until the game’s full release, so no real harm there.
After clearing out the safehouse for supplies and blunt objects, I ventured into Garden District for the first time. I saw the Wastrels roaming sadly through the streets, mumbling all sorts of assorted laments and gibberish, at least when they weren’t telling me to sod off. The first point of interest I spotted, marked on my map and quest log as “Crazy Legs”, was a man sprinting around town shouting about being late for a very important date. My quest log told me to incapacitate him, but he was running too fast to peg with a glass bottle, so eventually I just gave up and left him alone.
I began scavenging houses, careful not to lift anything while in direct line of sight. Duct tape, cloth scraps, filtered water, moldy food; anything that wasn’t nailed down, I helped myself to. I noticed one house with a line of tin cans in the door. Obviously it was some kind of primitive burglar alarm, but since the Wastrels didn’t seem to mind me taking all of their stuff, I decided to just trip it and see what happened. The moment I triggered the trap, every Wastrel in the house turned hostile, and I got my first taste of direct combat. One or two opponents can be easily dispatched with just your fists, but I quickly learned that any more than that, and I wouldn’t be getting away unscathed. After the fight ended, I used my only two healing items to restore my health to full, looted the house, and then split.
I noticed my other stats had begun to dwindle. I was becoming hungry, thirsty, and tired. I chanced the moldy food, and ended up with food poisoning. Thankfully, Nexomide pills that cure food poisoning were surprisingly abundant, so this wasn’t a huge concern. Water was also easily remedied thanks to the filtered water pumps around the Garden District, as well as refillable flasks to carry around. Exhaustion was the only real complication; because all of the houses were technically owned by Wastrels, none of the beds belonged to me. I could sleep in them if no one was looking, sure, but more than once, upon awaking, I was greeted by an angry Wastrel brandishing a branch at me.
I decided it was time to stop faffing about and get on with the game, so I headed towards Hamlyn, where the Wellies live. The bridge was blocked by a police barricade however, and to find the materials I need to break through it, I would to cross a different bridge into the other end of the Garden District. This was one of my first big gripes.
To cross the bridge, I needed to pay a toll: a bottle of honey. I had found a bee tree earlier, but if I went near the tree without a padded suit, the bees would sting me nonstop. I had the blueprint for the padded suit, but I had already scavenged most of the district, and hadn’t found enough of one material to make it. Out of options, I went for the tree and tanked the bees. I survived with the honey, but my health was in the red. I had already used all of the healing balms I had found after earlier conflicts, and couldn’t find any of the plant to make more. Deciding to take a risk, I brought the honey back to the toll bridge and crossed it.
I noticed a corpse with mushrooms growing out of it with several signs warning me away from it. Against my better judgment, I searched the corpse for supplies, and was immediately infected with plague. According to the status menu, plague would drain my stamina until I simply keeled over, dead. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, I went on with my quest, finding two Bobbies (police officers) guarding an apple tree. I needed a cop badge to cross into Hamlyn, but the moment I got within five feet of them, the Bobbies jumped me and beat me to death.
I awoke back in the safehouse with some items gone, but overall, no worse for wear. I walked back to other bridge for another go, only to find that it was once again closed off and the toll man demanding more honey. I had officially played myself into a corner; resources don’t respawn after you loot them from a house, so I had no healing items to tank the bees and still be able to tangle with the Bobbies.
I restarted my game, now secure in the knowledge of what I needed to do, but since the city is procedurally generated, I had to track down all of the major spots again. I got into several fights beyond my control, and once again exhausted my healing supply before I could make proper use of it. After some more sidequesting of questionable success (since I couldn’t very well finish the main questline), I decided to call it a night there.
So yeah, it’s not finished. It’s early access, it’s not supposed to be. Health needs to be able to be restored in a more reliable manner, or at least the components of healing stuff needs to be more plentiful, some sidequests need to be more clear in their instructions or otherwise debugged, and that honey toll booth needs an overhaul. I’ve made these comments clear to the creators on the Steam forums, and the mods have already sent them their way, so hopefully things will start changing in due time. The game will, after all, probably still be in development for up to a year.
But gripes and glitches aside, I do see potential here. The resource mechanics are noticeable enough to make you pay attention to them, but not to the point where they’re overbearing. Crafting stuff feels fun and rewarding, and I’m curious as to what kind of gizmos I can make later on in the campaign. The game’s flavor text sports a dry, sarcastic sense of humor, which makes it fun to read and experience, in addition to Arthur’s variety of miserable quips. The only major gameplay aspect I didn’t get to try was blending in with the Wellies by taking Joy pills, which I’m a little sad about. That is, after all, one of the primary concepts to We Happy Few, hiding in plain sight. I’m sure I’ll be able to soon, though.
As to whether or not you should buy in, I’d say unless you’re really, really excited about the project like I am, maybe hold off for a little while. I think We Happy Few will become one of the good ones down the line, but I don’t want to sour anyone on it before it’s done.